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Thursday, July 1, 2021

Hot Topics in Education for 2021


Now that the second half of the school year is underway, let’s take a look at the hot topics in education for 2021. Although COVID-19 has put added pressure on the education system, many of this year’s topics are the same ones that the community has dealt with for ages. The pandemic has increased the spotlight on these issues and, in many instances, presented potential ways to finally face and resolve them. The following six topics and more will likely permeate our national discourse on education in 2021 and beyond.

Digital Divide. The U.S. Department of Commerce published its first look at the digital divide in 199526 years ago. At that time, they found stark racial, economic, and geographic gaps between those who had online access and those who did not. In 2020, the National Education Association* reported that one-quarter of households with children ages 5 to 17 didn’t have either high-speed Wi-Fi, a computer, or both. For families near the poverty line, the number was close to half.

A positive outcome from the pandemic has been the brighter light highlighting the digital divide and its impact on educational and socio-economic opportunities for families. In many communities, telecommunications companies have stepped up to provide families with free Wi-Fi. Cities and philanthropies have contributed as well. In Chicago, a $50 million plan to provide free high-speed internet service to 100,000 Chicago Public School students was philanthropically funded during the summer of 2020. In addition, some school districts have used their federal stimulus funds to ensure that all students have home access to Wi-Fi for learning.

Learning Loss. Ensuring that all students achieve their full potential has been an education hot topic for decades. The No Child Left Behind Act was launched in 2001 to try to close the learning gap, building on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was voted into law nearly 40 years before, in 1965. In 2021, educators are faced with the historical challenges of ensuring educational equity while also tackling the gaps in learning that resulted from last year’s unpredicted switch to remote learning.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has only deepened that gap for many students. School districts around the country have reported a higher level of failing grades and a report from McKinsey & Company** estimated that students were three months behind in math when they started the school year. Because the number of students it impacts has recently been accelerated, more people are weighing in on the problem and a need for a solution.

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